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"WandaVision" Review: An allegory for the sitcom housewife

Marvel beautifully deconstructs television’s funniest tropes into a tragedy.

By Jack Kelly, Staff Writer

Elizabeth Olsen and Paul Bettany star in the Marvel superhero TV show "WandaVision" available on Disney+. (Photo Courtesy of Disney)

Laugh tracks are not powerful enough to hide Wanda’s grief.

“WandaVision” follows superhero Wanda Maximoff (Elizabeth Olsen) and superhero-synthezoid Vision (Paul Bettany) as they navigate family, neighbors and superpowers in the sleepy New Jersey town of Westview. Their life together seems picture-perfect — cleverly illustrated through famous sitcom canon — until strange happenings disturb their idyllic suburban life. The mysterious figures, strange voices and foreign objects frighten the citizens of Westview, who trace it all back to one person: Wanda.

The newest entry in the Marvel Cinematic Universe bounces delightfully through the history of television sitcoms, deftly switching eras with each episode under the remarkable directing of Matt Shakman. Reprising their MCU roles, Olsen and Bettany slip easily between styles, embracing their characters’ love as the show’s unbreakable sinew.

Olsen’s Wanda shines with beautiful depth compared to her previous MCU films where her story is barely explored. Fans may be surprised to see Bettany again considering his last appearance in the Universe, yet he and Olsen act as if nothing changed, bringing new dimensions to their relationship. It is obvious why the internet is obsessed with Kathryn Hahn as Agnes. She steals every scene she is in, fully embodying the nosy neighbor trope through the show’s best one-liners. (“Forgive me for not stopping by sooner to welcome you to the block. My mother-in-law was in town, so I wasn’t.”)

Every decade “WandaVision” presents an astounding amount of detail, from costume and set design to special effects. In the pilot, set in the 1950s, Wanda’s pots and pans zip through the air on strings as she makes dinner, an homage to “Bewitched” and “I Dream of Jeannie.”

The show, however, is more than a tribute to TV history, for it carefully restructures the sitcom housewife trope into one of hidden agony.

Wanda revels in her wifely duties, doting on Vision and their children with great aplomb, but when the sitcom script fractures, her mask drops, revealing her all-consuming pain. Wanda is arguably one of the most powerful characters in the Marvel universe, so her grief is palpable and destructive. Each time her facade falls, her problems become more challenging to hide behind a housewife’s artificial smile, and her world ruptures and cracks — literally.

Marvel fans know the source of her pain. Before “WandaVision” was “Avengers: Infinity War,” when the evil Thanos killed Vision, and “Endgame” when Wanda mourns for him. “WandaVision,” to its benefit, does not immediately explain why Vision is alive. It allows the mystery of the world to unfurl at a rapid pace, including Vision’s own discovery surrounding his existence.

Viewers with little to no knowledge of the MCU should not feel pressured to catch up with canon. “WandaVision” provides the background information necessary to its story, and Disney+ offers “Marvel Studios: Legends” for those who want a crash course on the characters’ backstories. Diehard Marvel fans can look forward to new lore and the return of some fan-favorite characters, as well as enough Easter eggs to fill multiple baskets.

“WandaVision” blends familiar television tropes into an achingly stunning story about love and loss and what one woman will go through to alleviate her pain. In 2021, its timeliness cannot be understated. As the world mourns the loss of millions of people, “WandaVision” asks, “What is grief, if not love persevering?”

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